Why is a rich country like the UK facing food insecurity?

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The Food Foundations’ September data highlighted that: 9.7 million adults which is 18% of the household including 4 million children suffered from food insecurity.  This translates into one in four households with children being subjected to some form of food insecurity in the UK.  A special report

“There is always a price to pay when you want everything to be quick, cheap and available,” said Baroness Sandip Verma, speaking at a webinar hosted by The Open Forum, a London-based think-tank, titled: Why a rich country like the UK is facing food insecurity?

Former Minister for Energy and Climate Change and International Development, Baroness Verma is presently the Chancellor of Roehampton University and Chairs the UK’s – UN Women’s National Committee.

“Whilst there is an argument and discussion around food insecurity in the UK, I do genuinely believe- the way we utilise our food; the way we source our food; the way we protect our own growers here unable to get the best for their products we need to have a serious discussion,” she added.

The webinar was moderated by Lizzie Cho, CEO of Nova New Charity, providing grassroots support to local communities.

Food Foundation describes food insecurity as, “having smaller meals than usual or skipping meals due to being unable to afford or get access to food, being hungry but not eating because due to being unable to afford or get access to food.”

The foundations’ September data highlighted that: 9.7 million adults which is 18% of the household including 4 million children suffer from food insecurity.

This translates into one in four households with children being subjected to some form of food insecurity in the UK.

“It’s fascinating that we are discussing that in a 5 or 6th largest economy and the second most influential country in the world after the United States,” said Professor Gwynthian Prins, Emeritus Research Professor at The London School of Economics & Political Science, who was speaking at the same webinar.

Taking off the table three reasons for the food insecurity in the UK, ‘Brexit; lack of labour and inefficiency in the food market system,’ Dr. Prins pointed to the UK having “millions more mouths to feed,” since it joined the European Union as his first reason.  Coupled with this, he believes is, “the UK farming sector crippled with over-regulation…prioritisation of land sterilization for renewables… allowing prime agricultural land to be taken out of food production to put up solar farms to produce virtually no useful electricity…massive increases in other obligatory expenditures like on heat, on light and on transport.” In conclusion, he added, the overriding reason for the food insecurity in the UK, “… is not a result of Mr. Putin’s war, no it is not the result of nasty people of the middle east. It is the result, overwhelmingly on the decision to engage in the incursion on so-called renewable energy…”

As a prescription to handling food security by individuals, Dr. Prins pointed to the label on a World War II food tin which read, ‘Food – Buy it with thought. Cook it with care. Use less wheat and meat. Serve just enough. Use what is left.’

 “The idea that food insecurity has happened because of renewable energy or a very welcome reduction of energy consumption in the UK, I wholeheartedly dismiss,” said Tristram Stuart, founder of Toast Ale, a company that makes beer with surplus bread instead of barley.

Considering 25% of people working in the food sector live in food poverty, the author and campaigner, further dismissed the idea that people do not want to work on agricultural land or that supermarkets run an efficient system. If given good wages people would work on the agricultural land, Tristram argued.

 “We have vastly greater food surplus that we have ever had in history,” said Tristram and yet, where does all that food go? “A lot of it goes into the bins,” he added.  

Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), estimated, “annual food waste arisings within UK households, hospitality & food service (HaFS), food manufacture, retail and wholesale sectors in 2018 at around 9.5 million tonnes, 70% of which was intended to be consumed by people (30% being the ‘inedible parts’). This had a value of over £19 billion a year and would be associated with 36 million tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”

While household food waste is a “colossal problem,” Tristram argued, “the vast majority of food that is wasted happens well before it gets anywhere near the consumers or the citizens.” A large part of the blame goes to the supermarkets, Tristram pointed out. How round is a potato or how green are the beans leads to a lot of food not being bought by the Supermarkets while, “off-loading the risk within the market on their suppliers,” said Tristram.

He further added, “Supermarkets supply the cosmetic standards when it suits their economic interest.”

According to him, “Food insecurity’s primary cause is poverty, poverty is not a result of solar farms and not even a result of food production and food waste. It is to do with economic structures that successive strictures both in the UK and Internationally have had in place which have resulted in colossal inequality in society. So, the richest people have been getting richer and the poorest people have not been getting richer in the real terms.”

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